Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Fowler: Let “Mr. Market” Decide Best AM Digital System

The former chairman, active in digital tech, favors competition; but the FCC only recently declined to reconsider HD Radio

Mark Fowler
Mark Fowler

If the FCC does allow AM stations in the United States to switch to all-digital transmission, former commission Chairman Mark Fowler says they should be allowed to consider a system other than HD Radio.

But it seems a true longshot that another system could be taken up at this juncture, given that Xperi’s technology has long been established as the U.S. system for digital radio, and that the platform has two decades behind it of station implementation and receiver penetration. Indeed in its most recent NPRM, the FCC explicitly stated in a footnote that it declined to reconsider the selection of HD Radio as the U.S. standard. 

However, Digital Radio Mondiale has raised its hand requesting just that, as RW recently reported. And there have been occasional other inquiries from U.S. broadcasters about whether DRM should be considered.

Fowler — who chaired the FCC in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan and is credited with leading repeal of the Fairness Doctrine — wrote to Radio World last week in response to that filing by DRM. Fowler has a history of activity in digital radio technology; he is former managing member of startup company DigitalPower Radio, working at the time with principal scientist Brana Vojcic. DPR had counted Beasley Broadcast as an investor and has its own history with HD Radio.

Fowler wrote this week:

“Putting aside the merits of a flash-cut switch to digital, it can’t be a bad development in public policy to provide a choice of digital systems to broadcasters. Xperi obtained the digital franchise by default, given that there was no other viable player the FCC could also authorize. The result was and has been a monopoly.

“Xperi has made some major strides in improving digital radio reception,” Fowler continued. “They have stuck with it for decades. But nothing concentrates the mind of an Xperi like competition. Whether DRM can make a go of it in the marketplace will be decided by Mr. Market. For sure, it might make the folks at Xperi more customer-friendly than their early history of customer treatment.

“It might also serve to speed up getting AM viable and back in the game. May the best electrons win.”

[Related: “WLOH Would Have a Compelling Reason to Promote Its Signal Again”]

Fowler has commented before about other AM regulations, including a 2017 opinion piece in RW about Class A protections; read that here.

Others have expressed interest in DRM. Last year station owner Larry Tighe in New Jersey petitioned the commission to allow AM band stations to use the DRM+ standard on another part of the spectrum if they wanted.

But the FCC has shown no inclination to pick up on the idea, and its footnote declining to reconsider the selection of HD Radio as the standard was issued after Tighe’s petition was filed.

Industry observers have told Radio World that it seems very unlikely the FCC would countenance a switch at this juncture.

The above article is part of RW’s ongoing coverage of debate over the use of all-digital on the AM band. You can watch a free webcast about this topic in February; register here.